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  How the World Cup works
Updated 17 April 2002, 14.09
Northern Ireland didn't qualify
Northern Ireland weren't able to qualify

32 teams will be in Korea and Japan for this summer's World Cup, but how does a team go from one of the hopefuls to winning the tournament?

Although the actual tournament lasts around a month, teams bidding to become world champions have to start their attempt almost two years earlier.

Fact File
Where the World Cup teams come from
15 from Europe
Five from South America
Five from Africa
Four from Asia
Three from Central and North America
None from Oceania

There are 202 teams in the FIFA World Rankings, and it doesn't take a maths whizz to realise that leaves 170 teams sat at home during the tournament.

And the 32 who play in the World Cup aren't necessarily the best 32 teams playing international football.

Teams come from all over the world.

That's because the people who run football, FIFA, have made sure that lots of different regions have the chance to send teams.

Each of FIFA's six confederations - governing bodies split roughly along the lines of continents - is told how many teams they can send to the tournament.

  Click here to see the World Cup stadia in South Korea

The confederations then decide how to get down to that number of teams, by setting up a programme of qualifying matches, which decides the final 32 teams.

El-Hadj Diouf
Senegal are one of five African teams
Once at the World Cup, the teams are split into eight groups of four, with each team playing the other three teams in their group once.

Like the Premiership, there are three points for a win, one for a draw and none for a defeat, with the top two teams in each group going through to the second round.

Then things get a bit more interesting, because as soon as a team loses they are on the plane home, with their opponents going through to the next round.

The knock-out format is the same in both the quarter finals and the semi finals, although in the last four the two winners play in the final and the two losers play in a play off for third and fourth place.

  Click here to see the World Cup stadia in Japan

In the knock out stages, the horror of penalty shoot outs and golden goals loom if matches are undecided after 90 minutes.

Penalty shoot-outs are a horrible way to lose
Penalty shoot-outs are a horrible way to lose
If neither team is leading at the final whistle, the first team to score in extra time, called a golden goal, goes through.

If after the two 15-minute halves of extra time, there is still no winner, then it's time for the dreaded penalty shoot out.

Each team takes five penalties, and if one team scores more than the other they go through.

If the two teams score the same number of spot kicks then it's sudden death, with the first team to take the lead after the sides have taken the same number of penalties going through.

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